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The 1981 Coors Cycling Classic: Part Six
 
By Staff
Date: 11/15/2003
The 1981 Coors Cycling Classic: Part Six
 

The 1981 Coors Classic
The 1981 Coors Classic: Part Two
The 1981 Coors Classic: Part Three
The 1981 Coors Classic: Part Four
The 1981 Coors Classic: Part Five

Dateline: Boulder Colorado, July 1981

North Boulder Park was the venue for the final stage of the 1981 Coors Classic. The race was about to become a part of history, and when we arrived at the team parking area, only a 3 mile drive from where all the teams were staying on the University of Colorado’s campus, everyone in the car had a huge smile. Part of it might have been relief. The Soviets had wrapped up the team title, which was their one and only stated mission. Were they disappointed to have let the young American, Greg Lemond win the GC battle? Well, maybe a bit, but it really wasn’t a problem, inside the team. The team had performed exactly at the level that was expected of them on the bike, but that really wasn’t the whole story…

Even though the team spoke no English, and the "Cold War" was still being waged with enthusiasm, the Soviets broke through with the American crowds, and they were certainly the co-revelation of that year’s race (along with the amazing Greg Lemond, who showed on home soil exactly how good he was, and would be!). People, to put it simply, fell in love with these guys. If you imagine the experience from the teams’ perspective, you can feel proud, if you were there in 1981, that these guys felt very good about how warm people were. The kindness they were shown everywhere they went in Colorado during that three week trip was something they all still remember to this day, I’m sure. Living in a training center in Minsk during the 1970’s, with a singular focus on success at cycling was a bit grim, when compared to touring around the USA like rock stars, during a near perfect summer, weather wise, on the world's most powerful amateur cycling team.

That day at North Boulder Park, was, for me, one of those moments I wish I could make go on forever. The crowd was enormous, the biggest we’d seen at the race so far. It was like a festival, with Frisbees, dogs, and house parties galore! The course could still be raced on today, although the City of Boulder, for no known obvious reason (to anyone I’ve ever spoken with), installed a median right where the start/finish line would be placed. We could have that torn out, if anyone wants to put a race on there now, no worries!

They’d raced both ways on the course, throughout the many years this beautiful park, right up against the foothills of the Rockies, had been used. This year it would be clockwise. I know I haven’t mentioned the women, and that really is another story, that should be told by someone who saw their race! When you are working for a team during a 10 day stage race, you are totally absorbed with your squad and the race you’re in, and the women weren’t even on our radar. That said, it was the most respected woman’s stage race in the world at the time, and Mike Aisner, the race organizer, deserves a lot of credit for being a leader in supporting women’s cycling in the US.

"I hope an American wins, like Phinney or Bauer," were the words from Lemond's mouth, right before the start of the final stage. The fact that Bauer is Canadian shows that maybe what Greg meant was he didn’t want the Soviets to win in front of what really should have been his crowd. He’d fought hard for weeks against a well organized group of men, with no team to speak of himself. He did benefit from a collective of Americans that seemed to be on his side, and that had to have helped through out the race. Greg was well liked, still is for that matter, and that goes a long way in a race, or life. I think the Soviet guys wished they had the opportunities that Greg had ahead of him. It was very honorable, the way they raced, and Greg ended up with a lot of respect. To this day he says the racing was fair and square, and the Soviets were a solid bunch of guys. Lemond actually crashed that day at the park. Nothing but a bit of road rash, he shook it off, and finished in the group. There was no way anyone steal a lap, as the speed stayed at about 50k an hour for the most well attended four corner criterium in the world.

If you ever find yourself in Boulder, the park is at Dellwood and 9th Street, easy to find. Go stand at that corner, and start walking down the hill. Actually, before you do that, imagine the crowd about 20 deep at that part of the course. You could look out over the nearly flat park that race circled, because you are on the high point, on that corner. The crowd was about 40,000 people, for the day. You had to ride a bike to get there, and it was cool to see 100’s of bikes in piles, you just had to remember which pile you left your bike in! The orange snow fencing was hardly up to the task of holding back the crowds, but the red shirted marshal crew kept control of things, and there were only a few hair-raising racer/crowd interactions that day. Criteriums are all about repeated efforts, lap after lap, usually in the same places. This course ran along an alley, one of the two long straight stretches.

Actually, the owner of one of America’s coolest bike shops (U Bikes), Doug Emmerson, owns a place right along this alley. During the summer months, each year, Doug hosts a series of softball games, which are always first class. Great people from University Bikes, and all Doug’s friends come to play. Andy Hampsten, who was at the Coors in 1981, comes buy to play every now and then. There was a visit from George Mount a couple of years ago. Mount, a classy guy, had fun, and told us he was awed by the Soviets that year, and he had an underpowered team that couldn’t avoid the temptations of vacationing instead of racing... Mike Aisner shows up too, and always enjoys hearing people’s memories of what was a very special time for a lot of people.

So, if you walked the whole loop, you’d cover exactly 1 kilometer. The finish had a slight downhill leading up to it. Right after the start/finish line, the technical part of the course comes up. A 90 degree, off camber right (on what were usually pretty rough roads), led into a wicked little chicane, that dumped you out onto the alley. A lot of pedals would be clipped through this tricky section, and crashes were common. The crowd, of course, was really thick and wild on that part of the course. This was also the sight of one of two wheel pits. I watched the race from that pit, sitting on a pair of wheels all day, as we had no flats, thank goodness. As you went down the alley, it ended with another hard, fast turn, which led to the little hump of the course, and back up to another hard right and back to the start finish line. The Soviets stayed out of trouble, and were all smiles as they grabbed a cold coke and a wet towel, after watching Bauer crush the sprint, another sign of things to come from this amazing race, the 1981 Coors Classic.

The award ceremony was overwhelming. Aerial photos show a massive ring of people around the podium, and video from the race, if you ever see it, will show you a truly united group of racing fans and racers from around the world, or, maybe of more importance, from both sides of "The Iron Curtain". The good vibe continued long into the night. The race hosted a party every year, after the final stage. This year's party was the best ever! Every woman there wanted to dance with Sergei Soukhorutchenkov, and he obliged. The next morning the guys left, and it would be fair to say they had just completed an amazing ‘Goodwill Tour", disguised as a bike race. Thanks for the memories, as they say.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed.

Dave Towle
The Winner’s Circle
AdventureSports Radio


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